artifacts of the imaginary: the ceramic art of Takei Ai


Since I first met Takei Ai (武井亜依) I’ve been to four exhibitions of her ceramics work, including a student exhibition at Kyoto Zokei Geijutsu Daigaku, her first solo exhibition at the AD&A Gallery, a solo exhibition in the town of Shigaraki, and most recently a group exhibition that she participated in at the Takashimaya department store in Kyoto.  In her work she explores the relationship between the organic forms of the vessels she shapes and the textural elements inherent in the clays and glazes that she uses.  Some of the surface textures that she generates are almost fabulously biological: the sake set below looks like it was made out of the skin of magical sea urchins, and at least one other person who has written about Ai’s work has compared the experience to encountering a “hairy plate.”

Ai is also fascinated with the impressions that can be stamped into pliable clay surfaces and one series she created involved stamping the raw clay with everyday commercial objects in order to register the shapes they made.  By stamping the clay in this way, everyday objects are given a new life in negative, the trace of consumer culture reversed into a newly organic form in a kind of clay-fired evolutionary experiment.  Similarly, Ai has investigated the use of molds to cast clay shapes, a process that inverts the usual association between ceramic arts and the idea of the handmade object.  Of course, the molds themselves are handmade, so artisanal labor still infuses these objects even as the process of making them references the industrial repetition made possible through the use of the mold.

Ai’s ceramics are incredibly beautiful to me and they carry a sense of complex textural and formal uniqueness that remind me of the autochthonic shapes generated by the evolution of nature much more than they do the traditional marks of ‘handmadeness’ associated with craft production.  Her sculptures can look like wishbones, or the splayed feet of imaginary shore birds; sometimes they resemble a pile of artifacts left by an alternate version of contemporary civilization that have been found far in the future after having become fossils, and sometimes they resemble tube worms found somewhere on the ocean floor, or bean pods, or nests that are waiting to be inhabited by ceramic swallows.  One of my very favorite pieces is a white hoop with a pair of ceramic sticks that resembles a child’s hoop-rolling game.  But it’s whiteness reminds me of bone, and I can’t help thinking of it as the fossilized remains of the mythical hoop snake, caught in some sort of Vesuvian moment of catastrophe, forever frozen in time in the act of rolling down a hill with tail planted firmly in mouth.  It’s a magical object, the very kind of thing that Takei Ai would think of making.


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